Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Data Walkabout 4: Sydney

I knew two people in Sydney who had come to Edinburgh on study visits in 2008: Maude Frances, Project Manager from University of New South Wales (UNSW) Library and Rowan Brownlee, Digital Project Analyst, University of Sydney Library. Now I know a bunch more, thanks to Maude and Rowan organising and publicising a super day of data management-related talks and meetings at the University of Sydney on 14 January, as part of my Data Walkabout.

Almost as a dress rehearsal, Maude invited me to give a version of my presentation to a smaller group at UNSW the day before "comprising academic staff, IT people, library staff, records and archive management people and research management people." In short, all the types of people needed to come together to form policy and services for institutional data management support. I was to provide an overview of the DISC-UK DataShare project and research data management policies and practices at the University of Edinburgh, including the Data Audit Framework Implementation project.

This was followed by a pleasant lunch (the first of several in university cafes set in bright glass-enclosed courtyards, often with birds walking around picking up scraps) with Maude, her manager (Digital Library Innovations and Development Unit) Tom Ruthven, Shane Cox, a researcher,who approached the Library for assistance and is now collaborating with Maude's team on the MeMRe project (Membrane Material Research) and the University Librarian, Andrew Wells. Andrew raised a poignant question that stuck with me throughout the rest of the visits: why would the Library get involved in support for research data management unless the researcher was willing to share their data? The question implied there was a difference in motivation for librarians getting involved in data mgmt support vs others, such as IT support staff. What is their motivation then? Often, it seems, cost recovery itself. After all, research is messy business, data is messy (as the data audits more than proved) and there is an understandable reluctance to don the burden and cost of cleaning it up for researchers or future users.

Nevertheless, Maude (who has been a researcher herself in the field of HIV prevention and got involved with the Library through the ARROW project) and her team are exemplary for braving into the waters and partnering directly with researchers who need information technology to get their research done. Maude sees a role for the Library particularly in enabling cross-disciplinary research, and in helping to align research, policy and practice. Another exemplary innovation at UNSW is the introduction of a promotional team (outreach librarians, if you will) for each faculty to promote use of the repository.

The seminar at U Sydney was attended by about 50 people "from various institutions, most of whom will be currently working in the area or have a strong interest in it" as Maude explained, meaning data management for "eResearch" which has quite a broad scope in Australia, possibly involving anything digital I think. Before the tea break we were welcomed and heard from a rapid fire succession of 10 minute presentations on ANDS (Australian National Data Service); Intersect, a new organisation to promote collaboration amongst Libraries and IT services in universities in New South Wales; and innovations at the University of Technology Sydney; UNSW Library (Maude and Shane); University of Sydney Library (Rowan); and the School of Chemistry's DataMINX. After, I was given quite a generous slot with plenty of time for discussion before lunch was served. I felt like I sobered up the previously optimistic mood with my slide of barriers to data sharing, so I didn't use it again on this trip. And I realised I needed a koala for my "data librarians are warm fuzzy creatures in the landscape" slide, which I rectified before my next presentation, with the help of Flickr (and Creative Commons). [Eventually I did take pictures of koalas sleeping in eucalyptus trees but their eyes were shut, which would not send the right message!]

Some of the challenging questions which the panel somehow managed to answer included Who is going to make persistent IDs persistent after ANDS is no longer funded? (maybe the national library, but they feel like everyone fingers them), and Who will manage ontologies and the mappings between them for the long-term for researchers to understand each other's data? (depends on whether there's an ongoing demand, likely), and Do mandates work? (need to take an educational approach, or in a word, No). I'll not forget soon the closing remarks of John Shipp, University Librarian, who welcomed those who'd gathered from across the state to "the oldest - and best - university in Australia" and quipped that he admitted he'd been expecting a Scot, and had to adjust his ears for listening to an American instead.

I was very pleased to meet Margaret Henty there, because Canberra had fallen off my itinerary and so I never made it to ANU. She was the lead author of the report on Investigating Data Management Practices in Australian Universities published by APSR (the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories) last summer - no winter! (July) - amongst other things, and now works for ANDS. I was invited to join a meeting after lunch with Margaret, Rowan, Jim Richardson (ICT relationship manager for eResearch, U Sydney), and Clare Sloggett (Intersect) who are planning a symposium on Supporting the Data Lifecycle for February. This is when I first realised that in Australia the 'repository people' and the 'eResearch people' actually meaningfully talk to each other. Another realisation, after consuming my parting gift from the U Sydney Library later, was that the Wirra Wirra winery label is worth watching out for.

No comments: